Posts Tagged ‘Bangladeshi’

INDIA: Minting a huge humanitarian crisis with national citizenship register in Assam

September 1, 2018

BHRPC wishes to forward this Written Submission to the 39th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council by the Asian Legal Resource Centre on the process of preparation of National Register of Citizens for Assam, India.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) wishes to draw the attention of the United Nations Human Rights Council to the draft National Register of Citizens (NRC) that India has recently launched in the North Eastern state of Assam and its far reaching consequences not only for the country but also for South Asia as a region and the world too.

The ALRC also wishes to draw the attention of the Council to the fact that the final draft list leaves a whopping 4,007,707 persons out of a total of 32,991,384 people who had applied. The exercise is accused of gross negligence despite being mandated and monitored by the Supreme Court of India.

The final draft is full of problems ranging from personal tragedies like that of a single family member left out of hundred plus members of an extended joint families to at places whole communities are being left out. Those excluded include even persons like family members of a former president of India, veterans of Indian security forces, policemen, kith and kin of legislators to the poor who have no papers to show.

Many of those excluded complain of reasons behind their exclusion being subjective biases and the inherent flaws in the NRC of 1951 and the electoral rolls of 1961 and 1971 that make up the core of the ‘legacy data’. There are many cases in which the direct descendants of those figuring in the NRC of 1951 having been left out from the final draft. The primary reasons behind this include clerical errors resulting in misspelt names right from the parents to those of the claimants now, mismatched relationships and so on. Most of the people being very poor and living in areas routinely affected by floods have also lost their documents.

There are also large-scale complaints of the sectarian biases based on linguistic identity having played against even genuine claims of many of those left out. Chief Minister of West Bengal, a state neighbouring Assam, has complained of Bengali speakers having borne the brunt of the exercise with about 3.8 million of those left out from the NRC, or almost ninety percent, consisting of them.

There have also been allegations about a systemic bias against Muslims, a religious minority community in India and Dalits, erstwhile victims of untouchability now protected by the constitution and listed as Scheduled Castes. Matua Mahasangha, a religious organisation consisting principally of Namashudra Dalits with origins in Bangladesh, gives credence to this argument and claimed most of those affected are members of the community.

The argument gets further support from the fact that India has seen a continuous influx of Hindu refugees, mostly poor Dalits, fleeing persecution in Bangladesh. Studies estimate the total numbers of those who came to India seeking refuge at around 11 million, settled mostly in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.

Though both the government and Supreme Court of India have promised another chance to all those left out to prove their citizenship along with no coercive measures against them till then, many fear losing their citizenships as all the documents they had have already been produced. Estimates of those finally left out are as high as 2 million.

Further complicating the situation is the fact of Bangladesh’s stern refusal of having anything to do with those left out. Authorities in Bangladesh have already called this issue an ‘internal matter of India with ethnic undertones’. This effectively turns those finally left out as stateless people with nowhere to go adding almost 2 million to already huge number of 10 million people currently estimated to be stateless.

That gives rise to the fear of large internment camps for those excluded from the final NRC list, violation of their human rights and another humanitarian crisis for the world.

In light of this, the ALRC urges the Council to:

1. Ask the government of India to exercise extreme cautiousness in the registration of the citizens and ensure that not a single genuine citizen of India is left out because of clerical errors or a lack of documents missing because of reasons beyond the control of applicants.

2. Ask the government of India to mobilise all authorities in the state of Assam as well as other states like West Bengal, Bihar and others from where many of the people excluded from the draft list come from to cross check their claims and help them secure their documents.

3. Ask the government of India to take concrete measures to dispel the allegations of discrimination against people on the basis of religion and caste and that nobody is denied citizenship because of discrimination.

4. Ask the government of India to urgently engage with the government of Bangladesh to find solutions in case of people still getting left out of the NRC as it claims that most of the ‘illegal’ immigrants are from Bangladesh.

5. Ask the government of India to not take any coercive action and deny people of their fundamental human rights and work for a humanitarian solution to the impending crisis.

(The submission was first published in the website of Asian Human Rights Commission and here it is reproduced verbatim for further dissemination)

Assam: Abuse, threats, intimidation and false case against human rights defender, scholar and writer Prof. Tapodhir Bhattacharjee

July 9, 2018

Assam human rights defender and renowned literary theorist and litterateur of South Asia Mr. Tapodhir Bhattacharjee has been abused, threatened and booked for an article written by him exposing the discriminatory and arbitrary procedure of updating of National Register of Citizens (NRC).

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Prof. Tapodhir Bhattacharya

Please sign the petition HERE

Following the publication of an article in by Professor Tapodhir Bhattacharjee, on Tuesday 3rd July, 2018 in the “Aajkaal“, a leading Bengali daily news-paper published from Kolkata, West Bengal, titled “Assam e Bangalir Shoroshojja” meaning “Bengalis on a bed of thorns in Assam” pointing out the racist and anti-people aspects of ongoing updation process of National Register of Citizens in Assam, at first, a section of electronic as well as print media based in Guwahati including the Pratadin Times, News 18 Assam etc. and “Edinor Sangbad”, “Axomiya Pratidin” among the print media branded him as a conspirator against the Assamese community. Then on 8 July a complaint was filed for registering a false criminal case against him in Dispur Police Station purportedly under section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.

Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharjee is a renowned and award winning literary theorist and critic and exponent of the contemporary theory and comparative aesthetics. Along with it, he is an essayist, poet, story-writer and the editor of a widely circulated little magazine “Dwiralaap”. He is a dedicated Human Rights Defender and at present works as the President of the Citizens Rights Protection Co-ordination Committee(CRPCC). This organization has been working against arbitrary deprivation of citizenship rights of the citizens and against continuous enforced statelessness of people of Assam for a long time. He is also an honorary member of Barak Upottoka Bongo Shahitto O Sanskriti Sammelan (Barak Valley Bengali Literary and Cultural Association), a prestigious body of litterateurs and intellectuals of South Assam. He is also the former Vice-Chancellor of the Assam University, Silchar and Tagore Professor of Delhi University. His father late Mr. Tarapada Bhattacharya was a freedom fighter and a member of the Assam Legislative Assembly from Katigorah Constituency, Cachar. Both of his parents were teachers. His wife Mrs. Swapna Bhattacharya is also a renowned and award-winning story-writer. Defaming and intimidating a person of such a stature and popularity is designed to stop him from his constant work mainly through writing and raising awareness for protection of basic human rights of linguistic and ethnic minorities of Assam as well as other human rights defenders working on the issue of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship rights of people in Assam.

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) formed governments both at centre in 2014 and in Assam state in 2016, one hundred more Foreigners Tribunals were set up and a large number of people including the indigenous people of Assam were served notices by these Tribunals and in many cases notices are not properly served and decisions are taken ex -parte declaring the person referred to in the case as a foreign national under a procedure that puts burden of proof on the suspect. After such decision, people are kept in detention centres indefinitely. Moreover, since the updation of National Register Citizens for Assam is going on in the state under a questionable procedure, a sense of helplessness and desperation have developed among the vulnerable groups of people to such an extent that at least ten people, including a man from indigenous Boro community and rest from people of Bengali origin, have committed suicide. More recently through a letter dated 11 June 2018 addressed to the Minister of External Affairs, Government of India, United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on minority issues, the Special Rapporteur on contemporary from of racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, the Special Rapporteur on promotion and protection of right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief have expressed their concerns and asked for a report from the Government of India on the issue of discrimination faced by people of Bengali origin. In such a scenario the term “bed of thorns”, which is a metaphor taken from the Indian epic Mahabharata, appears to have been used in the post-editorial essay to denote this extremely stressful and uncertain situation prevailing in Assam as an outcome of discriminatory, arbitrary and irrational procedure adopted by the NRC authorities.

The complaint filed in Dispur Police Station is has invoked section 153A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860. Section 153A provides punishment for promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony and is non-bailable. The opinion piece penned by Mr. Bhattacharya does not by any stretch of imagination falls under any penal provisions of law, let alone section 153A, IPC. He critiqued the state policies and actions that are resulting in arbitrary deprivation of citizenship of a large number of citizens of India including people of indigenous communities through a procedure already questioned by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs. There is not a single word in his entire essay that is calculated to promote enmity between communities. Rather the write-up seeks to promote harmony between communities through promotion and protection of equal rights of people of all communities living in Assam. The speech in the article is well within the protection of Article 19 of the Constitution of India as well as Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966. And it does not fall under any of the eight items enumerated under Article 19(2).

His works as the president of CRPCC and member of other civil society organizations as well as in his individual capacity fall within the meaning of human rights works as contemplated under the UN Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms and as such he is also protected under the declaration as a human rights defender.

In this background it appears that the defamation, threats and the false complaint against Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharya is an effort to create an environment of fear among the human rights defenders and progressive community workers. It is to be mentioned that earlier also in the 1970s and 80s, hundreds of community workers were killed in Assam after branding them as “Badan” meaning “conspirator and traitors”.

Therefore, Mr Tapodhir Bhattacharajee is at risk of getting physically assaulted and even killed by the extremists. He is also likely to be harassed by the police in connection with the complaint against him. There are also concerns about safety and physical and mental well being of his family and friends and other human rights defenders working in Assam, particularly on the issue of arbitrary deprivation of citizenship.

 

Please sign the petition HERE

 (For more information,  Taniya Laskar may be contacted at bhrpc.ne@gmail.com.)

BHRPC representation to JPC on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016

May 10, 2018

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) submitted its views and suggestions on the proposed bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955 to the Joint Parliamentary Committee on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on 9 May 2018 at camp at National Institute of Technology, Silchar in Cachar, Assam. The representation supporting the object sought to be achieved by the bill argued that the language employed defeats that very object and renders the bill violative of the constitution of India as well as international human rights laws as expressed through different United Nations negotiated multinational treaties.

The text of the representation:

To

The Hon’ble Chairperson Sri Rajendra Agrawal and his companion Hon’ble members of the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Bill to amend the Citizenship Act, 1955

At Camp at NIT, Silchar

Cachar, Assam

Subject: Recommendations for amendment of the Citizenship Act, 1955 vis-à-vis the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016.

Hon’ble sir,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC) expresses heartfelt gratitude for your visit to Silchar and particularly for holding this consultation with the people of Barak valley who are facing threats to their citizenship

BHRPC is a human rights group that endeavours to generate awareness of human rights among  all  stakeholders,  monitors  and  documents  cases  of  violations including cases of decitizenisation. Geographically  its  works  mainly  focus on  the  southern  part of  the  state  of  Assam  comprised of the districts of Cachar, Karimganj and Hailakandi. However, this self-funded voluntary group of human rights defenders also does its best to address cases of violation happening elsewhere in the state.

BHRPC presents its views and recommendations on the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill, 2016 on behalf of the people of Assam from the human rights point of view as follows:

  1. The statement of objects and reasons attached to the abovementioned bill states that “under the  existing  provisions  of  the  Act,  persons  belonging  to  the  minority communities, such as Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians from Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Pakistan, who have either entered into India without valid travel documents or the validity of their documents have expired are regarded as illegal migrants and hence ineligible to apply for Indian citizenship. It is proposed to make them eligible for applying for Indian citizenship.” Though it is not stated expressly in the bill, the underlying reason for making the abovementioned persons eligible for Indian citizenship is understood to be their victimization in sectarian violence in their countries.

  1. Of course, it is a humanitarian response to the suffering, the members of vulnerable groups of people in India’s neighbouring countries are made subject to, worthy of the largest democracy in the world. It is informed by Indian constitutional ideals of humanitarianism and respect to human rights as well as India’s legal and moral obligations under the international humanitarian and human rights laws.

  1. The modern international law relating to the issue at hand is based on Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that reads, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” This has been elaborated in several international conventions including the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 and its 1967 Protocol[1].

  1. The international laws relating to the issue also find place in the Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954 and the Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961.

  1. The honoured principle of non-refoulement is also reiterated in the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment[2].

  1. BHRPC is aware that India is not a party to the international conventions mentioned above. However, these are the documents containing laws of the civilized nations regarding the issue under consideration[3]. India, therefore, should ratify these conventions and frame a uniform immigration policy in conformity with the norms promulgated there.

  1. Coming to the bill under consideration, the clause 2 fails to live up to the principle of international law and also runs afoul to the cardinal constitutional principle of secularism that forms the basic structure[4] and principle of equality of treatment as enshrined in Article 14 by naming certain religious demonination while excluding others by implication. The bill also does not mention that the persons to be made eligible for citizenship should come in India owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion as provided in the Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, 1951 as amended its 1967 Protocol. In fact, the bill does not provide any basis for according them citizenship other than their being member of the named religious groups, namely, Hindus, Sikhs, Buddhists, Jains, Parsis and Christians. Thus it excludes other minorities who are often persecuted in the neighbouring countries such as Shias, Ahmadias, Atheists, Sexual minorities, political dissenters etc. and Muslims in Myanmar[5]. The classification has no reasonable basis and there is no nexus between the object sought to be achieved and the legislation. Therefore, the bill is in its present form unconstitutional as it is hit by Article 14[6].

  1. The wording of the clause goes against the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, 1965 to which India is a State Party. Article 1 of the Convention defines the term “racial discrimination” to mean any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, colour, descent, or national or ethnic origin which has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing the recognition, enjoyment or exercise, on an equal footing, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural or any other field of public life. The bill excludes people who otherwise should be included on the basis of religious and ethnic identity.

  1. To save the bill from unconstitutionality and to bring it in line with India’s obligation under international human rights law, the clause should provide that any person who comes to India from any neighbouring country for being victimized in sectarian violence or for fear of such victimization irrespective of their religions shall not be treated as illegal migrants.

  1. The immediate trigger for presenting the bill came, it is understood, from fear of decitizenisation of people belonging to linguistic minorities, though the bill does not address this issue directly. This needs to be addressed to prevent gross violation of human rights of a large section of people belonging to a number of ethnic/linguistic groups including Bengalis and Nepalis. The threat comes from the arbitrary procedure of updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC).

  1. The NRC rules[7] provides that only the name of person whose name appear in any of the electoral rolls prior to the year 1971, or in National Register of Citizens, 1951 and descendants of the persons mentioned above should be entered in the updated NRC.

  1. This rule is in breach of sub-section 7 of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955.[8]

  1. According to the Representation of Peoples Act[9], 1950 as interpreted by the Supreme Court[10] those whose names are there in a final electoral roll must be presumed to be entered after due scrutiny giving rise to a presumption of their citizenship.

  1. The NRC updation rules referred to above is also in breach of this law as laid down by the apex court of the land.

  1. Moreover, the said illegal procedure certainly falls under the rubric of arbitrary procedure within the meaning of Article 14 of the Constitution of India.

  1. The basis of modern international law regarding right to a nationality is enshrined in Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948 that provides that everyone has the right to a nationality and no one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.

  1. It is, therefore, necessary to add a subsection to section 6A clearly providing that the person whose names appear in any electoral roll as voters shall be presumed to be citizen of India.

  1. BHRPC, therefore, recommends to the JPC that the bill should be re-written in the following terms:

  1. In subsection (1) of section 2 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 (hereinafter referred to as the Act), the following proviso shall be inserted after clause (b), namely:

“Provided that persons who migrated to India from the neighbouring countries, namely, Afganistan, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Srilanka, Bangladesh and Myanmar for being victimized in sectarian violence or for fear of such victimization irrespective of their religions shall not be treated as illegal migrants for the purposes of this Act.”

  1. In the Act, in section 6A, after sub-section 7 the following subsection shall be inserted, namely:

“7A:  The person whose name appears in any electoral roll as voters shall be presumed to be citizen of India.”

  1. In clause 3 in the Third Schedule of the Act, the following proviso shall be inserted, namely:

“Provided that for the persons mentioned in proviso to clause (b) of subsection (1) of section 2, the aggregate period of residence or service of a Government in India as required under this clause shall be read as “not less than six months” in place of “not less than eleven years”.”

Clause 3 of the bill may be retained verbatim.

  1. BHRPC further recommends that:

  • India should ratify the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1952 and its protocol, namely, Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, 1967.

  • India should ratify the UN Convention relating to the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954 and the UN Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 1961.

  • India should ratify the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, 1984
  • India should formulate a uniform immigration policy in line with the above international treaties.

  • India should take proper actions in appropriate international forums on cases of atrocities on minorities and vulnerable groups and gross violations of their human rights happening in neighbouring countries.

 

Looking forward to a report from your end that incorporates the above recommendations leading to a non-discriminatory law according citizenship of persons migrated to India from neighbouring countries owing to persecution for their identity or belief or views, or for fear of such persecution and protecting citizenship of genuine Indian citizens.

 

With warm regards

Taniya Sultana Laskar

Secretary General,

Barak Human Rights Protection Committee

Silchar, Assam


[1]  Article 1 of the Convention, as amended by the 1967 Protocol, defines a refugee as this:  “A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it”

[2] Article 3 of the Convention provides that no State shall expel, return (“refouler”) or extradite a person to another State where there are substantial grounds for believing that he would be in danger of being subjected to torture. For the purpose of determining whether there are such grounds, the competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the State concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.

[3] India is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

[4]  Kesavananda Bharati v. State of Kerala, AIR 1973 SC 1461 and S.R. Bommai v. Union of India, AIR 1994 SC 1918 and several other judgments of the Supreme Court.

[5] Whereas the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is described by the United Nations as facing the risk of ethnic cleansing, see https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/sep/05/more-than-120000-rohingya-flee-myanmar-violence-un-says

[6] State of Madras v. V. G. Row 1952 AIR 196

[7] Sub-clause (a) and (b) of clause 2 of the Schedule framed under Rule 4A (4) of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of Identity Cards) Rule 2003 titled Special Provisions as to Manner of Preparation of National Register of Citizens in the State of Assam.

[8] Sub-section 7 of section 6A of the Citizenship Act, 1955 provides that who were citizens of India before 1985 are exempted from the operation of section 6A that enacts the rule about 1966 and 1971.

[9] Section 16 of the Representation of People Act, 1950 provides for disqualification for registration in an electoral roll and it it includes not being a citizen of India meaning that those whose names are there in a final electoral roll are found to be citizens after due scrutiny as prescribed by law.

[10] Lal Babu Hussein & Others v. Electrol Registration Officer  and Others 1995 AIR 1189

Assam: How the National Register of Citizens (NRC) has become the source of distress and even suicide for some people

April 30, 2018

CJP Urgent Appeal: Stop Move to Make Assamese Muslims Homeless & Stateless Sign our Petition NOW!

April 26, 2018

(BHRPC forwards this Citizens for Justice and Peace petition to protect bonafide Indian citizens from enforced statelessness)

A humanitarian crisis is underway in Assam as you read this. The National Register for Citizens (NRC), a record of ‘legitimate’ Indian citizens living in Assam, is being updated for the first time since 1951. The ostensible objective is to weed out ‘Illegal Bangladeshi immigrants’. However, the numbers tell a chilling story… one of a conspiracy of ‘othering’ and exclusion.

NRC Appeal

Representational image by CJP

3.29 crore people from 68.27 lakh families in Assam have submitted over 6.5 crore documents with the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to prove their Indian citizenship. But the NRC recently published a list of only 1.9 crores as legal citizens.

A huge number of 1.39 crore Assamese, almost all Muslim, are under threat of having their legitimate citizenship revoked. CJP believes this is discriminatory. Join us and raise your voice against this injustice. Sign our Petition NOW!

  • We demand an immediate halt to this anti-constitutional and potentially polarizing move.
  • We demand an end to this attempt to brand all Muslims as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.
  • We demand that corrupt local officials are NOT empowered with coercive powers to unilaterally decide fates of entire families.
  • We demand a stop to dividing Assam for narrow political gains.

Raise your voice against this now. Sign our petition.

The appeal was published on CJP website and reproduced here for wider dissemination.

Insiders, Outsiders and Improper Legalese: Test of Citizenship and ‘Foreigners’ in Assam

January 18, 2018

Prasenjit Biswas

A large number of Indian citizens who voted and elected governments in Assam as well as the central legislature are subjected to a process of verification of their citizenship documents. Now after verification, if a large number is rendered disenfranchised and stateless, the legal implication is that peoples’ representatives who are elected are elected by illegal electorate. So natural justice demands that these elected representatives cannot hold offices legitimately in case the electorate is found to be ‘foreigners’ and not citizens of India! 

nrc

NRC Logo

The first draft of National Registrar of Citizens (NRC) published in the midnight of 1st January, 2018 created more confusions than it resolved. It generated a discourse of Othering and exposed the exceptionalist and exemptional nature of the law-making in the context of Assam. The Citizenship Amendment Rules, 2003 concerning registration of citizens and issuance of identity cards under section 18 of the Citizenship Act, 1955 created an exception in case of Assam by adding a Schedule 4A under which updation of 1951 National Register of Citizens is presently carried out. No other state of the country follows rules laid out in Schedule 4A except Assam. The first draft of updation is now published that called for serious reflection on this whole legal process conducted under the supervision of two-judges bench led by Justice Ranjan Gogoi of the Supreme Court of India.

These special provisions inserted at various stages to the mother Act of 1955 on the ground leads to ‘profiling’ of people in terms of their religious and linguistic identities. Such profiling has a political angle. People who came to Assam until March 24th, 1971 due to referendum and partition of Assam as also due to separation of certain territories such as Khasi and Jaintia hills, Mizo hills etc. from Assam are somehow either accommodated or they have to prove their citizenship once again. Overall, the special provisions Schedule 4A are based on assumptions like ‘original inhabitants’ of Assam, which smacks of an unfounded category within the very idea of citizenship. The nondiscriminatory and equality based notions of citizenship enshrined in the Constitution of India of citizenship of “persons” as enshrined under fundamental rights and the rules framed in 2003 do not quite gel with each other. Special proviso 4A further undermines persons belonging to linguistic and religious minorities, as they are subjected to suspicion and arbitrary process of proving their citizenship by twisting basic presuppositions and principles of “equality before law” that have guided framing of the Indian Constitution.

People waiting to check their names in first draft of NRC publish on 31st December 2017

People waiting to check their names in first draft of NRC publish on 31st December 2017 (Photo: thehindiu.com)

Especially the procedure for verification of documents under the overall execution of the NRC coordinator seems to be a difficult procedure. The documents are sent to issuing authority for verification. There are interesting legal issues here- for how many years an issuing authority is supposed to preserve a copy of the original document issued by them to a client  and whether the issuing authority is legally obligated to re-verify a document at the call of another office such as NRC department. Without taking into account these issues, documents are sent to the issuing authorities. The outcome is that large amount of documents remained unverified and the reason given is that records are not available and manpower for verification exercise too is not readily available with various State and Central governments. Now those whose records remain unverified, they will be subjected to arbitrary administrative hassles, especially when various ethnic bodies are suspect and target those who minority groups as “Bangaladeshis” and who are going to be excluded from updated list.

This is a slippery slope situation that makes the circumstances very grave and punishing for no fault of the victims of this systemic exclusion. It is assumed that those names that are not included are not genuine Indian citizens and god forbid, any genuine Indian citizens excluded due to this cumbersome verification process will have to struggle a long way to get back the status of being a citizen. Such cases will be referred to Foreigners’ Tribunal and after a cumbersome legal process one may be able to get a legal redress. Now politicians take hold of the slippery situation. They have started asserting that no genuine Indian citizen will be excluded without addressing the issue of procedure. That the applicant remains as the possible sufferer at the other end of this process of verification is no one’s concern. Instead, Assam’s former Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said indigenous people won’t have to bother about such a situation, meaning non-indigenous religious and linguistic minorities only will have to be concerned if they face any such exclusion from updation. Another much celebrated democratic voice from Assam Akhil Gogoi has asserted in Delhi that two crores of Bangladeshis have to be deported from Assam. Noted intellectual Homen Borgohain asserted that certain parts of Assam such a Barak valley, Dhubri and lower Assam have only been parts of Assam’s geography but never a part of History. This is how linguistic and cultural and religious minorities are purged from imagination of Assam in which NRC process adds to the existential fear and agony of being reduced to rightless noncitizen. Recent assertion by Assam Chief Minister that those whose names will not figure in updated NRC, their fundamental rights will be taken away and they will be given only the right to food, shelter and life magnified this existential fear among those who are Indian citizens and whose names may not figure due to an inefficient procedure.

What Homen Borgohain has argued opens up a Pandora’s box. His concern is that it is because of the Bengali speakers of Barak valley and certain other lower Assam areas that Assamese is rendered as the language of minority in Assam. So he argued that Barak valley should be separated from Assam to regain “only the Brahmaputra valley as the land of Axomiya speakers”. It is widely believed in this context that the targets for disenfranchisement and de-citizenization are linguistic and religious minorities whose fears are compounded by a long drawn process of verification without stating any reason why certain documents are found incorrect or kept pending. Much needed transparency and statement of proper reasons for pendency to applicants who assume themselves to be genuine Indian citizens is not shown much respect. Rather the process resorted to arbitrarily drawn procedures by the Executive which are unfriendly and not supported by existing legal framework.

The larger point is that large number of Indian citizens who voted and elected governments in Assam as well as to the central legislature are subjected to this process of verification. Now after verification, a large number is rendered disenfranchised and stateless, the legal implication is that peoples’ representative who are elected are elected by illegal electorate. So natural justice demands that these elected representatives cannot hold offices legitimately in case the electorate is found to be ‘foreigners’ and not citizen of India! While the State NRC coordinator stated before the Supreme Court that in the first draft, the office has verified 2.38 crores cases of roughly 3.40 crores applicants, the draft incorporated only 1. 9 crores of people, keeping out 1.4 crores. This indicates as if a large section within this left over people may prove to be ‘foreigners’ and later they are to be rendered stateless. Before the second draft of the NRC, the coordinator stated that children who are born after 2003, their names will be included provided both their parents’ names and not one of them find a place in the NRC. The basic principle that those who are born in India will be Indian citizens is in the way of getting amended in an extra-legal manner by the Executive. This is legally implausible as the bottomline condition for children to be an Indian citizen is that one of the parents is Indian and the other is not an illegal migrant. A large number of post-2003 children now face this new conundrum. In the first draft, those whose names are part of “legacy data”, available right in the NRC database are excluded, citing that their verification is pending. No one is able to understand how the verification is conducted. Updates in the forms of press statements are yet to be substantiated by disclosure of full information to the applicant in the website.

The situation created its ripple effect in Bengal with Mamata Banerjee pronouncing that Bengal will give shelter to people who would suffer due to such a cumbersome process. She created storm in the tea cup by her repeated pronouncements to this effect. Political opinion in Assam got sharply divided on her protestation.

Overall, the situation needs able handling and skillful mediation to complete the NRC process in a just and fair manner.


Prasenjit Biswas chairs Barak Human Rights’ Protection Committee and is a political analyst.

A version of article was published in The Statesman under the title of “Insiders, Outsiders and Improper Legalese on 15 January 2018.

NHRC notice to the Government of Assam over allegations of harassment to the people in the name of verification of their nationality (15.11.2017)

November 15, 2017

PRESS RELEASE

New Delhi, 15th November, 2017

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC has issued a notice to the Chief Secretary, Government of Assam after taking suo motu cognizance of the allegations reported in the media about the harassment being meted out to the people by the police in the name of verification of their nationality in the State. Reportedly, due to the illegal immigration from Bangladesh to Assam, the people belonging to Bengali origin are under scanner for years together and the Assam Government has set up Foreigners’ Tribunals to deal with the doubtful cases.

The Commission has observed that it has carefully perused and examined the contents of the news report, carried on the 31st October, 2017. The steps taken to identify the suspect cases of illegal immigration and setting up of Foreigners’ Tribunals is a policy perspective of the government and it would not like to intervene into that matter but the allegations that in the name of verification, the poor people are being subjected to harassment and humiliation is a matter of concern for the Commission, as it amounts to violation of right to equality and dignity of the innocent victims.

According to the media report, there are detention centres in the State of Assam, where the people, under scanner, are lodged in two categories, Bangladeshis and D-voters. In many cases, once a person is declared an Indian citizen is again served notice by the police. It is further mentioned that at the time of hearing, the subjects are not allowed to wear their shoes and they have to enter barefoot, inside the Court, while the government officers and advocates are exempted.

A specific case of one Shri Moinal Molla has been mentioned in the media report. His parents, wife, children, brother and rest of the family are Indians and still his citizenship was rejected by the authorities. He spent more than two years at a detention centre. It was only after the intervention by the Apex Court, the justice was done in his case.

As mentioned in the report, there are 89,395 people estimated as illegal immigrants in Assam till August, 2017 and currently there are more than 2,000 people languishing in the detention centers, across the State, who are, allegedly, being subjected to discrimination.
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The Press Release was published in the NHRC website and it is reproduced here verbatim: http://nhrc.nic.in/dispArchive.asp?fno=34386

Ambivalence of Citizenship in Assam

July 3, 2016

The process of identifying “citizens” through the preparation of the National Register of Citizens for Assam, coupled with changes in the Citizenship Act, 1955 that apply specifically to Assam and allow for a “hyphenated” citizenship– “Indian” and “Assamese”–continues to be troubled issues that have not abated since the 1980s, writes Anupama Roy.

The foreigners’ question that festered in Assam in the 1980s endures today. However, its resolution is no longer sought in the violent elimination of the non-Assamese-speaking outsiders or solely through the legal mechanisms of the Foreigners Act, but through bureaucratic intervention, pushed by a political consensus on identifying those who belong. Towards this end, Assam has seen over the past two years an unprecedented bureaucratic exercise of identifying “citizens” to prepare a “National” Register of Citizens (NRC) for Assam.

The history of identification of citizens and sifting out non-citizens goes back to the Assam movement and the Assam Accord. The present moment, however, is significant for its coalescence with the changes made in 2003 in the Citizenship Act, 1955, which eliminated citizenship by birth and gave precedence to descent. The absence of a “political” contestation in Assam over the NRC, and the approval it has among people across Assam, is symptomatic of the continuing appeal of an “authentic” Assamese identity, which is currently being officially debated in the state, and of trust in an “efficient” mechanism of identification of citizens, painstakingly developed by the NRC commissioner of Assam.

The Assamese Exception

“It is a register of Indian citizens,” an eminent journalist from Assam, who has reported and written extensively on the preparation of the NRC, corrects me, when I ask him about the preparation of the NRC for Assamese citizens. The register being prepared in Assam is indeed of Indian citizens. But the pedigree of Indian citizenship is traced to an Assamese legacy, which makes the NRC a register of Assamese–Indian citizens or Indian citizens who are legitimate residents of Assam. The identification of Indian citizens simultaneously as Assamese recognises a hyphenated citizenship, hitherto alien to the political vocabulary of citizenship in India. Significantly, the cohabitation of what was a conflicting relationship in the 1980s has been achieved by marking out the illegal alien (“Bengali-speaking, Muslim, Bangladeshi infiltrator”), as the constituent other. Indeed, the conceptual apparatus of citizenship summoned by the components of the hyphenated citizen— “Indian” and “Assamese”—iron out the multiple layers and corresponding contestations within each.

The citizenship question in Assam has a long postcolonial history fraught with conflicts, and is reflected in the manner in which the citizenship law in India has responded to the contests over citizenship in Assam. The Citizenship Act, 1955 was amended in 1986 to inscribe an exception in the law in recognition of the extraordinary conditions prevailing in Assam. The 1986 amendment came in the wake of the Assam Accord, and pertained to the identification and sifting out of foreigners and illegal migrants from Bangladesh. While migration into Assam from Bangladesh has a long history, it was in 1971, in the course of the liberation war in Bangladesh, that several lakhs of Hindu and Muslim refugees fled to Assam. On 8 February 1972, the Prime Ministers of India and Bangladesh issued a joint declaration in which the Government of India assured “all possible assistance to the Government of Bangladesh in the unprecedented task of resettling the refugees and displaced persons in Bangladesh” (Baruah 1999: 119). Not all refugees returned, and Bangladeshi migrants continued to cross the border into Assam and other parts of India in search of livelihood. Within Assam, the presence of large numbers of “foreigners” instilled a sense of unease at the change in demography, language and culture, and pressure over resources. A powerful popular movement erupted in the 1980s, led and steered by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) demanding the ouster of foreigners. The movement lay claim to a distinctive Assamese identity and based on this, differentiated citizenship. Grounded in the principle of “different yet equal,” difference was articulated in the initial years of the movement in terms of the linguistic/cultural identity of Assamese people, and later with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) taking over the struggle, in terms of unequal development and discrimination. At the root of both was a powerful sentiment of crisis in citizenship in Assam.

Yet the model of citizenship that the Assam movement invoked replicated the universal form that it was seeking to roll back in its own relationship with the Indian state. These contradictions played out in the articulation of citizenship at the national and state levels and within the state between the “ethnic” Assamese and the Bodos, the Assamese and the Bengalis, the Assamese and the tribals, etc. The accord reached between the leaders of the movement and the Indian government in 1985, and the amendment in the Citizenship Act following the accord in 1986, put in place a template of graded citizenship in Assam, and shifted the chronological boundary of citizenship for the state to 25 March 1971, from 19 July 1948, which was the constitutional deadline for the rest of the country.

The Assam Accord, signed on 15 August 1985, included the promise by the central government that it would ensure “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards…to protect, preserve and promote the cultural, social, linguistic identity and heritage of the Assamese people” and the “all round economic development of Assam.” On the question of “foreigners” in Assam, the accord evolved a graded/differentiated system, categorising them on the basis of the date of their entry into Assam. It legitimised the citizenship status of those who had entered Assam from the (then) East Pakistan before 1 January 1966. Those who had entered the state between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1971 were to be legitimised in phases, that is, they were to be disenfranchised for a period of 10 years from the date of identification, while others who had come after 24 March 1971 were to be deported as illegal aliens.

Sixth Category of Citizenship

In November 1986, Parliament amended the Citizenship Act, 1955 by adding Section 6A which introduced a sixth category of citizenship in India along with birth, descent, registration, naturalisation, and by incorporation of foreign territory into India. This new category of citizenship was to apply exclusively to Assam. The amended act laid down that all persons of Indian origin who came to Assam before 1 January 1966 from a specified territory (meaning territories included in Bangladesh) and had been ordinarily resident in Assam will be considered citizens of India from the date unless they chose not to be. It also added that persons of Indian origin from the specified territories who came on or after 1 January 1966 but before 25 March 1971 and had been resident in Assam since and had been detected as “foreigner” in accordance with the provisions of the Foreigners Act, 1946 and Foreigners (Tribunals) Orders, 1964, upon registration will be considered as citizens of India, from the date of expiry of a period of 10 years from the date of detection as a foreigner. In the interim period they will enjoy all facilities including Indian passports, but will not have the right to vote. All other persons who entered the state on or after 25 March 1971, upon identification as illegal migrants under the Illegal Migrants (Determination by Tribunal) (IMDT) Act, 1983, will be deported.

With the signing of the Assam Accord, we can see the confirmation of a hierarchised model of citizenship constituted by the universal “we,” the Assamese people, whose claim to citizenship was beyond any legal dispute. The universal “we” was superimposed on residual citizens, whose citizenship was rendered ambivalent by their linguistic identity and their religion. The government sought to resolve this ambivalence through law, by conferring deferred citizenship onto some, through the determination of their legality by the Foreigners Act. The rest, that is, those who arrived in India on or after 25 March 1971, were illegal aliens, confirmed as such by the IMDT Act, and deported from India. In actual practice, however, since both the Foreigners Act and the IMDT Act applied simultaneously, and prescribed different modes of determining citizenship, in a context of continuing influx of immigrants from Bangladesh the residual citizens occupied a zone of perpetually indeterminate/liminal citizenship and suspect legality. Moreover, as far as the mode of identification of “illegal migrant” or “foreigner” was concerned, the IMDT Act was more protective of the interests of the immigrant, since it shifted the responsibility of producing evidence from the person identified as an “illegal migrant” to the “prescribed authority,” and demanded a locus standi from the applicant identifying the illegal migrant as such.

The Supreme Court scrapped the IMDT Act in 2005 removing what was largely perceived in Assam to be an anomalous and unfair exception. In its judgment, delivered on 12 August 2005, in response to a petition seeking its repeal by Sarbananda Sonowal, a former president of AASU, former member of legislative assembly and member of Parliament from the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) and currently the chief minister of Assam, a three judge bench declared the IMDT Act unconstitutional. While the grounds for declaring the act unconstitutional were specifically questions of legal procedure, the general principles articulated in the process had ramifications for the way in which citizenship was defined and interpreted. The Court described immigration from Bangladesh not only as illegal entry, but as an act of aggression. Arguing within a notion of bounded citizenship, the Court stated that buttressing national territorial boundaries and protection of its population from infiltrators who posed a threat to national security was an essential function of state sovereignty.

In the recent past, the contest over illegal migration and citizenship has played out yet again in the orders given by the Supreme Court in two sets of public interest litigations (PILs) questioning the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act. One of these, brought before the Supreme Court by the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha, Assam Public Works, and All Assam Ahom Association (in Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and Others v Union of India and Another, 2014) focused on the provision in Section 6A that granted Indian citizenship to those Bangladeshis who entered Assam between 1 January 1966 and 24 March 1971. The second PIL filed by the non-governmental organisations Swajan and Bimalangshu Roy Foundation in 2012, which is still being heard, focused on that part of Section 6A, which treated all Bangladeshi migrants who entered Assam after 24 March 1971 as illegal for deportation by the state. The PIL brought by Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and others raised anxiety over the dilution of the legal frameworks of citizenship which, they argued, promoted indiscriminate influx and put at risk the security of the state and people. The second PIL lamented the clubbing of all migrants who entered India after 24 March 1971 as illegal, and asked that illegal migrants be distinguished from displaced persons (primarily Hindu and other minority groups fleeing persecution), who must be given the legal status of citizens.

Questioning Validity of Law

The Supreme Court admitted the PIL filed by Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and others challenging the validity of Sections 6A (3) and (4) of the Citizenship Act on the ground that it represented the interests of an entire people—the tribal and non-tribal population of Assam—and, therefore, deserved to be admitted. These interests, the judges observed, related to the protection of Assamese culture, but had larger ramifications for the sovereignty and integrity of the country as a whole. The judges left the question of the constitutional validity of Section 6A, particularly its compatibility with the citizenship provisions in the Constitution in prescribing for Assam a cut-off date for citizenship which was at variance with Article 6 of the Constitution, to be decided by a constitutional bench.

Addressing the remaining parts of the petition, they traced the historical trajectory of Section 6A to the Assam Accord, and averred that the legal modalities of conferring citizenship were only part of the Assam Accord. The other and equally substantial components of the accord consisted in securing the international border against future infiltration and the preservation of Assamese culture and identity. In October 2006, the Government of Assam constituted a committee of ministers to examine the implementation of the Assam Accord, and the complex task of defining the “Assamese people.” The committee met with political parties, literary bodies and student groups to deliberate on an appropriate definition. In July 2011, a cabinet subcommittee was constituted by the central government to examine the question.

Leaving it to the government and the Assamese people to deliberate and decide on what constituted Assamese culture, the Supreme Court limited itself to issuing specific directions to the central and state governments for the fortification and surveillance of the eastern border. It also decided to monitor the progress made in this direction by the government, by preparing a road map for its completion. The Court, however, concerned itself also with securing the territory “internally” by expediting the process of sieving out the foreigners from citizens. To this end, it asked the Gauhati High Court to hasten the process of selection of chairpersons and members of the Foreigners Tribunals to ensure that they became operational. The Chief Justice of the Gauhati High Court was to monitor the tribunals by constituting a special bench to oversee their progress. The central government was asked to streamline the process of deportation of the illegal migrants after discussions with the Government of Bangladesh, and to place the outcome of these discussions before the Court. In addition, the Supreme Court laid down a time schedule to be followed for updating the NRC in Assam so that the entire register could be published by the end of January 2016.1 In its administrative guidelines the Supreme Court followed its decision in Sarbananda Sonowal (2005) in construing the “influx of illegal migrants into the state of India as external aggression.” At the same time, however, it broadened the notion of security to include “internal disturbance,” which involved being alert to and eliminating risks to the Assamese people from outsiders. To this end, it directed the attention of the larger bench of the Supreme Court which would examine the constitutional questions precipitated by the petitions, to consider whether the expression “state” occurring in Article 355 refers only to a territorial region or includes also the people living in the state, their culture and identity. For its part, by prescribing a deadline for the updation of the NRC, the Court reinforced the responsibility taken up by the central government through the Assam Accord to update the 1951 NRC in Assam.

The second set of petitions filed in 2012 by Swajan and the Bimalangshu Roy Foundation pleads that Hindus and persons of other minorities from Bangladesh migrating to Assam to escape religious persecution must not be bracketed with illegal migrants to be slotted for deportation. Pointing out that Section 2 of the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950 protects from expulsion any person “who on account of civil disturbances or fear of such disturbances” in any area forming part of Pakistan (now Bangladesh) has been displaced from or has left his place of residence and has been subsequently residing in Assam, the petitioners ask that displaced persons should constitute a distinct category for legal protection, and that Hindus seeking shelter in Assam should be given citizenship on the same grounds that they have been given in Gujarat and Rajasthan between 2004 and 2007 (Telegraph 2013).

After the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) came to power in 2014, its leaders, including the BJP chief Amit Shah, have spoken in rallies in Assam assuring citizenship to Hindus who had fled to India to escape religious persecution in Bangladesh. Indeed, the government has promised to enact a law for the rehabilitation of Hindu refugees from Pakistan and Bangladesh, setting up a task force to expedite pending citizenship requests from refugees, and issuing long-term visas of 10–15 years, wherever citizenship requests were taking long to process. At the same time, echoing the campaign speeches of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, Shah had been convincing people in Assam that the BJP would get rid of “infiltrators.” Indeed the BJP declared immigration policy a major plank of its campaign in the Assam assembly elections in 2016. On 9 April 2016, speaking in a rally at Sonari, Amit Shah promised to give the Assamese people a Bangladeshi-migrants-free Assam if BJP was voted to power (Kashyap 2016). In an article in the Indian Express, Samudra Gupta Kashyap elaborates on the number of Bangladeshis in Assam, arguing that the numbers remain disputed, with the Congress and the All India United Democratic Front (AIUDF) believing that “infiltration” is not as substantial as it is made out to be by the AASU. Yet, since 1985, Foreigners Tribunals have declared 38,000 persons in Assam as illegal migrants, of whom most have either absconded or are in detention in camps. The Foreigners Tribunal is scrutinising over a lakh cases. Nearly 1.5 lakh names in Assam’s electoral rolls are marked “D” standing for “doubtful” to convey their citizenship status. Interestingly, the “D” voters are permitted to apply for inclusion of their names in the NRC, but their registration would ultimately depend on the verdict of the Foreigners’ Tribunals (Kashyap 2015).

Bounded Citizenship

As mentioned earlier, whereas in the rest of the country, the cut-off date for citizenship inscribed in the Constitution is 19 July 1948, with the 1986 amendment in the Citizenship Act, Assam became an exception to the constitutional deadline, with 24 March 1971 becoming the new cut-off applied exclusively to Assam. The NRC in Assam works on the principle of tracing citizenship to a legacy of Assamese descent going back to the 1951 NRC and to next signpost, 1971—the “additional load,” as Prateek Hazela, commissioner and state coordinator of NRC, called it in an extensive interaction with the author.

Yet, the NRC is not only about integration and closure, or even the recognition of an Assamese identity by descent or through affirmation of legal residence in Assam. It is equally about a humongous bureaucratic exercise of identification and enumeration of citizens, of putting in place efficient and effective identification regimes and associated documentation practices, often associated with the exercise of state power, and state-formative practices. A body of scholarship has established that such practices produce the structural effect of the state, whereby the state appears to exist through palpable ruling practices. Fixing territorial boundaries, and making its inhabitants legal are important ingredients of statecraft, which seek to make the citizen a stable and enumerable category, amenable to specific governmental practices. The regimes of national identity systems enumerating entire populations of nation states, make these systems more comprehensive and consequential. In recent years, digitalised and biometric identification systems have made identification regimes more efficient but also intrusive than the older paper-based documentation regimes, for their potential for surveillance of citizens. The diverse components of surveillance such as tools and technologies of survey, measurement, census, etc, have long been used for marking what lies within the purview of the state’s powers of extraction and control, enhancing and entrenching its powers of revenue collection, garnering military service, law enforcement, and policing. Over the years these tools have become more sophisticated, specialised and differentiated, and increasingly more nebulous, not requiring the constant proximity between the law enforcers and the people (Singh 2014: 42).

It is indeed possible to see the NRC as part of the continuing legacy of governmental practices of the state, and its potential for surveillance and control. In 2003, the amendment to the Citizenship Act brought about two significant changes—the recognition in law of the category of Overseas Citizen of India (OCI), and the constraining of citizenship by birth by confining it to only those whose parents were Indian citizens already or if one of the parents was an Indian citizen and the other was not an illegal migrant. In addition, the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and the Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules of 2003 provided the procedure for the “establishment and maintenance” of the NRC. Section 14A made the registration of all citizens of India, issue of national identity cards, the maintenance of a national population register, and the establishment of the NRC by the central government compulsory.

The preparation of the NRC in the entire country is yet to take off, and the National Population Register (NPR) which is being prepared alongside the Unique Identification (UID) Aadhaar is expected to lead on to the issue of national identity cards based on citizenship (not just residence) and the NRC, after the illegal migrants who may have entered the NPR are weeded out.

The trajectory of the NRC in Assam, however, can be traced to the decisive moment in 2005, when the Supreme Court scrapped the IMDT Act. While delivering the judgment, the Court directed that all persons with suspect citizenship be brought under the purview of the Foreigners Act, 1946. The then Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi proposed that the NRC prepared in 1951 in the state be updated to resolve all contests over the foreigner issue, and also put to rest the apprehensions of the AASU and the AIUDF. A separate directorate was established by the Government of Assam to update the NRC. However, it did not make any progress beyond the computation of available data, partly because the NRC 1951 for all the districts of Assam was not readily available with the state government2 (Kashyap 2007, 2015).

In 2007, the Gogoi reiterated the desirability of having an updated NRC, but also drew attention to the intricacies of the process and the problems accruing from the fact that a large number of legitimate residents of Assam, such as the tea garden workers, may not actually have any documentary evidence to trace their residence in the state to 1971 or 1951. In addition there was no clarity as to where the legal authority of the process of updation would come from—a constitutional amendment or statute of the central government approving the modalities framed by the state government. A cabinet subcommittee was set up by the state government to draw up the modalities, to finalise the procedures and structures of establishing the link of every person to the electoral rolls of 1971, which could then be connected to the NRC of 1951. In 2015, when the Supreme Court issued directions to the state government to accelerate the process and complete it within a prescribed time frame, the central government provided the guidelines and funds for updation and the process was carried out by the state government, under the guidance of the Registrar General of India, as provided in the amended Citizenship Act. A senior IAS officer headed the NRC as its commissioner and coordinator (Kashyap 2015).

Rationality, Efficiency and Trust

Elaborating the complex modalities of updating the NRC, Prateek Hazela foregrounded aspects of the NRC, which are decidedly distinct from the political imperatives of tracing an Assamese legacy. Hazela professes a bureaucratic rationality, propelled by the logic of efficiency, and driven by the objective of developing a foolproof mechanism of identifying Indian citizens resident in Assam. At the same time, since the efficiency of the identification system depended on the active and willing participation of the people of Assam, the technical model had to be made acceptable and comprehensible to the Assamese people as a whole. To be acceptable, a system needs to be made familiar to people. This is possible only after an initial confidence is built. Indeed, in the sequence followed by the NRC commissioner, generating trust for the NRC was the first essential step before the actual process of enumeration could begin. Ajupi Baruah, project manager with the NRC, described the process as akin to invoking a sentiment—of creating a frenzy—which could then be channelled into winning people’s trust, alleviating their apprehensions, and ensuring their participation.

The NRC hoardings and visual promos played in cinema halls and television channels included Bihu songs and dances around the NRC theme. Using familiar cultural tropes, promotional videos were intended to build curiosity, and subsequently anticipation, which could translate into popular acceptance, enabling collective participation in a massive and complex exercise. Indeed, the NRC anthem sung by the popular Assamese singer Zubeen Garg (Jibon Borthakur), wove together pleasing visuals of plurality and cultural diversity, promising the following:

We are the citizens of this country

NRC represents our each and every soul.

We hold each other’s hands

NRC gives courage in our hearts.

Our identity, security, rights,

Peace, progress, and unity together.

The emotive appeal of the NRC anthem lay in the promise of citizenship as a collective national political identity, juxtaposed on an inclusive Assamese identity characterised by cultural plurality. A leaflet issued by the state coordinator NRC, Assam, invoked the spirit of responsible participation, by reminding citizens of their civic role in “standing united and making the NRC a success story for us and our future generations.”

Once curiosity had been generated and anticipation built, the second, and more difficult step was to make people familiar with the complex procedures. The NRC office adopted a range of strategies to make the system comprehensible. These included educational videos and television advertisements, newspaper advertisements, leaflets, pamphlets and posters with illustrative examples of registration of a fictitious family, public meetings, community level meetings and gram sabhas, etc, to build, as the NRC commissioner expressed it, people’s “capacity” to register themselves.3

It may be recalled here, that in the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha’s petition before the Supreme Court questioning the constitutional validity of the 1986 amendment and consequently Section 6A of the Citizenship Act for being at variance with the Article 6 of the Constitution, the Supreme Court had issued instructions to the state government to expedite the process of preparing the NRC and to the Gauhati High Court to accelerate the process of identification of foreigners and illegal migrants. The entire process of preparation of the NRC was to be monitored by the Supreme Court. The thumb rule for identification of a citizen was to trace his or her pedigree to an ancestor who had resided in Assam on or before the deadline of 24 March 1971, by referring to what the NRC called and generated as “legacy data.” The data of the 1951 NRC and the electoral rolls published in Assam up to 24 March 1971 cumulatively comprised the legacy data. Finding an ancestor in the legacy data to whom a person could trace direct descent was the most common mode of identification for inclusion in the NRC.

Before the process of tracing legacy could begin, the NRC office had to coordinate the compilation of large and dispersed data on the 1951 NRC and the electoral rolls which were available at district levels, into one consolidated computerised database. The statutory publication of the legacy data was done alongside the launch of 2,500 NRC seva kendras (NSKs) on 27 March 2015, marking the inauguration of the process of updation of the NRC. Spread across the state, in districts, and clusters of villages, the NSKs housed the published legacy data, provided access to the digital database, and also served as application receiving centres. After an ancestor had been traced in the legacy data, the computerised database assigned to the applicant an 11 digit number called Unique Legacy Data Code, which gave the applicant a numerical link with the ancestor. The applicant quoted the legacy data code at the time of submission of the application. The legacy code became the basis of the verification of the applicant’s claims and also linked him/her up to others who had the same code because of common ancestry. Apart from the data code providing legacy trace, the applicants furnished a number of “linkage documents” carrying the names of both the ancestor and the applicant, to establish connections with the ancestor appearing in the legacy data.4

Apart from those who could trace their legacy to the 1951 NRC, other categories of persons considered eligible for inclusion were those who came to Assam on or after 1 January 1966 but before 25 March 1971, and had registered themselves with the Foreigner Regional Registration Office (FRRO) and had not been identified as illegal migrants or foreigners, and the “original inhabitants” of Assam and their children and descendants whose citizenship could be ascertained by the registering authority. Subsequent Supreme Court orders permitted Indian citizens and their children and descendants who moved to Assam after 24 March 1971 to apply for inclusion, if they could furnish evidence that they were resident in any part of the country outside Assam on 24 March 1971. As per another Supreme Court order, all the members of the tea tribes are covered under “Original inhabitants of Assam” category provided for under Clause 3(3) of the Schedule of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of National Identity Cards) Rules 2003. The project officer with the NRC clarified that in the absence of any proof of residence, and non availability of legacy data code, original inhabitants like the Karbis could be registered through the affirmation of their status by what was called a “speaking order” whereby, the Local Registrar of Citizen Registration (LRCR) could certify that despite no documents, on the basis of their language, food, clothes, etc, it could be assumed that they were the original inhabitants of the state.

After the publication of the legacy data and the launch of the NSKs, the process of actual application began. The forms were distributed to the people at their houses but could also be downloaded from the website. The head of the family was expected to apply for the entire family, including the daughters. All members of the family, who were residing in Assam, or outside in any other part of the country, or abroad, had to be included in the application. In case of institutional homes, like orphanages, old age homes, asylums, etc, the head of the institution would apply for the inmates.5 Photocopies of all documents, showing the names of the persons in the family who figure in the legacy data, and additional linkage documents showing relationship with the ancestor in the legacy document were submitted at NSKs designated for particular localities, whose officials would be responsible for conducting the physical verification of the details by visiting the addresses mentioned in the form.

The NRC updation process is presently at the stage of verification of 68.33 lakh application forms it has received, along with five crore supporting documents.6 Verification is done as per the provisions of the Citizenship (Registration of Citizens and Issue of Identity Cards) Rules 2013, and consists of two parts—office verification and field verification. Office verification entails the scanned and uploaded copies of all documents being sent to the issuing authority to confirm whether the document was in fact issued by it and whether the details in the document corresponded with the records that existed with the issuing authority. If official verification was intended to weed out forged documents, field verification consisting of house to house visits by the verification team intended to check identity proof, verify submitted documents for validity and establishment of relationship, and collect details of the ”family tree” to match the detail with those submitted by various applicants across Assam. Matching the family tree submitted by applicants with the one generated by the computer software on the basis of forms received was designed to detect false claims.7

Indeed the family tree is an innovation where authenticity of claims to residence and citizenship are affirmed through the kinship network. A family tree form is filled up by the visiting team from the information given by the applicant in the form and to the visiting team. This “manual family tree” is checked against a computer software-generated family tree carrying the details of all the persons who have claimed to be children or grandchildren of the same legacy person.8 The ongoing verification process will be followed by the publication of the draft NRC, and subsequently the receipt and disposal of claims and objections and the publication of the final NRC.

Conclusions

The NRC marks continuity with a notion of citizenship that can be traced to the Assam Accord, the contestations around the amendment of the citizenship act in 1986, and subsequently the Supreme Court judgment in the Sarbananda Sonowal case 2005. The petitions by the Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and others and Swajan and Bimalangshu Roy Foundation questioning the constitutional validity of Section 6A of the Citizenship Act, have added fresh dimensions to the debate, which became significant in the electoral competition in the state in the 2016 state assembly elections. The widespread acceptance of the NRC among the Assamese people is indicative of a consensus among the Assamese people on the resolution of the question of citizenship. There are different streams in the political consensus, with one strand seeing it as a continuing commitment to the Assam Accord and its potential to alleviate the crisis in citizenship, and another preferring to contest the accord’s capacity to resolve the problem. Thus, while Tarun Gogoi vouched for the efficiency of the tools developed by the NRC office to update the NRC, others have expressed the fear that it may only legitimise the Bangladeshi immigrants.

In the course of the election campaign, Himanta Biswa Sarma who had migrated to the BJP from the Congress, and was now its chief strategist, declared his disagreement with the continuation of 1971 as the deadline for the NRC, reiterating the dominant BJP position that the party is committed to granting citizenship status to Hindus who came to Assam after the 24 March 1971 deadline (Bhattacharjee 2016). In addition, claiming that the Assam Accord provisions pertaining to citizenship are disputed and challenged in the Supreme Court, Sarma has chosen to foreground that part of the accord, which promised that the original inhabitants of Assam and their culture be protected. In line with this, he would prefer to see the citizenship signpost pushed back to 1951, and those who came to Assam between 1951 and 1971 be given refugee status and not full citizenship (Sarma 2016). An AASU member in a political meeting in Sarbananda Sonowal’s constituency Majuli communicated this as follows:

The Tarun Gogoi government has to go. People will have to come out this time if they want the Axomiya jati (the ethnic Assamese) to survive. Or else we will become foreigners in our own land. It wasn’t for nothing that Bhupen Hazarika sang long ago, ‘Aami axomiya nohou dukhia buli santona lobhile nohobo’ [It is not enough of a succour to believe that we Assamese will never be poor in our own land].

An appeal by AASU in the Supreme Court in February 2016, challenging the decision taken by the central government to give citizenship to displaced Hindus from Bangladesh, was withdrawn after the announcement of Sarbananda Sonowal’s name as the BJPs chief ministerial candidate (Pisharoty 2016). Yet, there is a strong sentiment in AASU, often also reverberating in Sonowal’s statements, which continues to support the accord, the 1971 deadline, and its affirmation in the of 2005 Supreme Court judgment (Hindu 2016). Not surprisingly, a day after he was sworn in as Chief Minister Sonowal visited the NRC office assuring complete support to the endeavour. Yet, the doublespeak in the BJP, and its emphasis on the resolution of the “foreigners question,” as evident from the assembly election results declared on 19 May 2016, have resulted in consolidating the Hindu votes in favour of the BJP. Whether it will replace a plural Assamese identity with one rallying around religion, only time can tell.

Notes

1 Judgment delivered by Justice Ranjan Gogoi and R F Nariman on 17December 2014 in the case Assam Sanmilita Mahasangha and Others v Union of India and Others (2012): Writ Petition (Civil) No 562. In May 2015, the court appointed a court commissioner to visit the border areas to study and report the progress made.

2 The decision to update the NRC was announced by the Assam government in 2005. A pilot project was launched in the assembly constituencies of Barpeta and Chhaygaon in 2010. While the Chhaygaon updating was successfully completed, the one at Barpeta had to be called off following violent protests by the All Assam Minority Students’ Union. AASU and other groups pressed for a resumption of the process. The Supreme Court intervened and fixed 31 October 2015 as the date for publishing the draft NRC, and 31 January 2016 as the deadline for the final NRC.

3 See Government of Assam, National Register of Citizens, http://nrcassam.nic.in/faq01.html, accessed on 14 May 2016.

4 The following documents are admissible: birth certificate, land documents, PAN card, board university examination certificate, bank account, LIC policy, post office documents, gram panchayat secretary certificate, electoral roll, etc. In case an ancestor’s name was not found in the legacy data, application for inclusion may be made for inclusion in the NRC by providing any of the other admissible documents issued before 24 March 1971 (midnight), namely, (i) land and tenancy records, (ii) citizenship certificate, (iii) permanent residential certificate, (iv) refugee registration certificate, (v) passport, (vi) LIC policy, (vii) government-issued license/certificate, (viii) government service/employment certificate, (ix) bank/post office accounts, (x) birth certificate, (xi) board/university educational certificate, (xii) court records/processes. See nrcassam.nic.in/faq02.html (accessed on 14 March 2016).

5 NRC, leaflet on application form receipt, filing and application, 2015 (not numbered).

6 NRC, leaflet on verification of NRC application forms and family tree detail submission for an error free NRC, Leaflet no NRC Assam/leaflet/verification-1/2015.

7 See note 6.

8 See note 6.

References

Baruah, Sanjeeb (1999): India Against Itself: Assam and the Politics of Nationality, Delhi: Oxford University Press.

Bhattacharjee, Nilotpal (2016): “BJP, AGP In Migrant Divide,” Telegraph, 6 March.

Hindu (2016): “Sarbananda Unanimously Elected as BJP Legislature Party Leader in Assam,” 22 May.

Kashyap, Samudra Gupta (2007): “Assam Yet to Update National Register of Citizens,” Indian Express, 6 August.

— (2015): “In Assam, An Ongoing Effort to Detect Illegal Bangladeshi Migrants,” Indian Express, 17 June.

— (2016): “BJP Will Rid Assam of Bangladeshis: Shah,” Indian Express, 10 April.

Pisharoty, Sangeeta Barooah (2016): “We will Demand Full Implementation of the Assam Accord from Any Party That Wins,” The Wire, 22 March.

Sarma, Himanta Biswa (2016): “In This Assam Poll, Bangladesh Immigrants Want Their Own CM too,” Indian Express, 15 February.

Singh, Ujjwal Kumar (2014): “Surveillance Regimes in India,” States of Surveillance: Counter-Terrorism and Comparative Constitutionalism, Fergal Davis, Nicola McGarrity and George Williams (eds), London: Routledge.

Telegraph (2013): “SC Mulls Case of Refugees—Apex Courts Asks Centre & Dispur to Respond to PIL,” 26 July, Kolkata.

The Wire (2016): “BJP Pins Its Hopes on Anti-Immigrant Sentiment in Assam Polls,” 4 April, accessed on 16 May 2016.

————

Anupama Roy (royanupama07@gmail.com) is with the Centre for Political Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.

The author would like to thank Sanjeeva Kumar, Prateek Hazela, Akhil Datta, Banasmita Bora, Santana Khanikar and Ankita Datta for their help and support.

The paper has been published in the Economic & Political Weekly and is available here: http://www.epw.in/journal/2016/26-27/perspectives/ambivalence-citizenship-assam.html . This is a reproduction in toto for wider dissemination.

Is granting right to residence to members of persecuted minority from Bangladesh and Pakistan an election ploy towards voters in Assam?

September 23, 2015

An election ploy?
Prasenjit Biswas
14 September, 2015

The recent notification granting right to residence and stay to members of minority religious groups persecuted in Bangladesh and Pakistan is an exemption aimed at garnering Hindu votes in Assam’s fractured polity. The Centre’s humanitarian gesture swells the support base of Bengali Hindus for the BJP even when hundreds of their ilk live in detention camps on suspicion of being illegal migrants. The irony is that many of these suspects are declared illegal ex-parte, many of them proving to be bonafide Indians after a strenuous legal battle.

The ex-parte modus operandi of declaring such bonafide Indians “non-citizens” amounts to the enforcement of a sense of stateless on soft targets like Bengali-speaking Hindus and Muslims. In many a proceeding under the foreigners’ tribunal, appropriate legal recourse, appeal and safeguards under the law were denied to suspected foreign nationals and they were sent to detention camps, the first step in their disenfranchisement and statelessness prior to deportation.

Interestingly, although India does not have an extradition treaty with Bangladesh to send back people declared “foreigners”, many have been pushed back without any explanation. More often than not they are shot on the border, which, according to international law, is not only anti-immigrant but also an abomination on humanity. Where, one may ask, in national and international law is such a practice permitted?

There is no certainty that the lives of such legally-created stateless individuals, belonging to some persecuted communit or the other, is going to change because they are exempt from being termed foreigners under a set of pre-Independence laws like the Passport Act, 1920 and Foreigners’ Act, 1946. Indeed, such outdated laws and and their provisions found reincarnation in Clause 2(1)(b) of the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, 2003 that retains the notion of “illegal migrant” for those who enter India without valid papers from specified territories (read Bangladesh and Pakistan) and which still remains in vogue and applicable within judicial purview in determining the status of persecuted entrants from other countries. The notification, drawn up under the previous Acts of 1920 and 1946, does not provide a legally foolproof safeguard for such persecuted migrants against being called illegal and rendered stateless.

Further, rules framed under the Citizenship Act, 2003. which relate to a revision of the National Register of Citizens requires legacy data within 1971, which again is another mechanism to revoke citizenship. Such a play with citizenship laws continues to threaten Assam’s large non-Assamese population, including Bengali Hindus, in keeping them in limbo between non-citizen and citizen.

The situation shows up two opposite and contrasting tendencies. On the one hand, India, under the broad scope of the United Nations Convention on the Status of Stateless Persons, 1954, grants “exemption” to persecuted religious minorities of Bangladesh and Pakistan, keeping in mind the contextual situation in Assam. This very idea of exemption from having to produce valid passport and other travel documents is a declared humanitarian consideration for those being persecuted and displaced as a result of violence — a scenario that Bengali-speaking Hindus of Assam’s Barak Valley are all too familiar with.

There had been many victory processions by the BJP in Barak Valley claiming to protect the persecuted Hindu minorities who had come from Bangladesh and Pakistan. In the Brahmaputra valley, the same party merely paid lip service with regard to allowing persecuted migrants to remain in India. This has angered ethno-nationalists of the Brahmaputra valley, who see this as the imposition of a burden on the state’s refugees. Apparently, the exemption is a great political ploy to win over Assam’s sizeable Bengali Hindu vote that would allow the BJP to form the next government in Assam. Arguably, the exemption could be utilised to allay the fears of Bengali Hindus. Legally, the exemption would restrain the police from harassing religiously persecuted minorities at the slightest pretext.

The shrewd mix of politics and law, combined with a humanitarian concern produces a “fast pitch” for the BJP in Assam to bowl out the already beleaguered Tarun Gogoi government by placing on it the task of “freeing Hindus” from detention camps and even winding up these camps since “suspected foreigners” are kept there along with hardcore criminals. In response, Gogoi has placed the ball in the Centre’s court by claiming Assam has nothing to do with the issue.

According to Gogoi’s interpretation, if the Centre has granted these exemptions then it alone can grant Hindus immunity from legal proceedings on citizenship and, hence, he preferred to have nothing to do with it. This, needless to say, has given the BJP the gumption to accuse the Congress of being anti-Hindu. The political outcome of such legal exemptions, therefore, is a pretty kettle of fish that completely marginalises the case of Muslim migrants being given any exemption on any humanitarian grounds. There is no gainsaying that a large number of Muslim inhabitants of lower Assam districts are victims of ethnic cleansing and natural calamities, deprived of all their belongings and documents. Does not the heart of secular India bleed for such woebegotten religious and linguistic minorities living in Assam and elsewhere?

(The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong and Vice Chairperson of Barak Human Rights Protection Committee (BHRPC), Silchar, Assam)

The piece was originally published in the Statesmen and available  at http://www.thestatesman.com/news/north-east-page/an-election-ploy/89927.html

How the NRC updation in Assam threatens to render a large section of Bengali settlers in the state stateless

September 13, 2015

Joydeep Biswas

A riot victim woman whose house was burnt down by the militants takes shelter at a relief camp in Narayanguri village in Baksa district of Assam. Photo: The Hindu

A riot victim woman whose house was burnt down by the militants takes shelter at a relief camp in Narayanguri village in Baksa district of Assam. Photo: The Hindu

Very few in mainland India are aware at the moment that a process of citizens’ registration on the basis of racial profiling is under way on the eastern fringe of the country. The national media — both print and electronic — has not cared even to report the ongoing preparation of the National Register of Citizens (NRC), leave alone analysing the legal nuances involved in the action and the possible plight of the ‘denizens’.

This exercise, initiated through a gazette notification dated December 5, 2013 by the Registrar General of India, was initially due to be completed within a time span of three years. But the judgment delivered by a Division Bench of the honourable Supreme Court (Coram JJ, R. Gogoi, R.F. Nariman), dated 17 December 2014, advanced the due date of publication of the final NRC to January 1, 2016. The whole exercise, set off in a selective manner only for the State of Assam, is meant for detection, detention and deportation of the illegal migrants who crossed over to Assam from Bangladesh on or after March 25, 1971.

The vexed issue of infiltration and expulsion of foreigners in Assam, which has dominated the political theatre of the State for over three decades, has got close links with the very history of the subcontinent. Colonial history of the State dates back to 1826 when, under the Treaty of Yandabo, the then geography of what is now called Assam came under the British rule. And the tract was made a part of the Bengal Presidency which, of course, included the erstwhile East Bengal as well.

The first partition of Bengal

In a different turn of events, Cachar, now one of the three districts forming the Barak Valley in southern Assam, was annexed by the Britishers after the fall of the Kachari Kingdom in 1832, and was also made a part of the huge Bengal Presidency. Such arrangements were made much before the first Government of India Act, 1858 through which control over the Indian territories held by the British East India Company was vested in the British queen.

They effectively meant that people of Bengal and of Assam — transcending ethnicity, language and culture — lived within the same administrative jurisdiction and under the same political dispensation.

In 1874, by a whimsical decision of the British government, two districts of East Bengal — Sylhet (along with Cachar) and Goalpara — were separated from the Bengal Presidency, and were joined with Assam to create a new administrative unit which was placed under a Chief Commissioner. This was technically the first Partition of Bengal, a development that unfortunately escaped the attention of the mainstream scholarship.

Much has been written and read about the partition of Bengal in 1905, and its eventual rollback in 1911. However, surprisingly enough, historians of modern India have shown cruel indifference to the cultural knifing of 1874, due to which the Bengalis of Sylhet and Goalpara of the then East Bengal, for no fault of theirs, had to shift their allegiance to a completely different cultural geography.

The colonial power had its own fiscal logic. Sylhet, a revenue-rich district in British India, was tagged with a revenue-deficit Assam to address the administrative purpose of fiscal rationalisation. These two districts thereafter continued to exist inside the administrative boundary of Assam for the remaining length of the colonial rule. In 1947, Sylhet was lost to Pakistan on the basis of the outcome of an allegedly rigged referendum.

The communal carnage that took over the subcontinent resulted in the biggest displacement of people in the recorded history. The humanitarian crisis had its ramifications both on the eastern and the western boundaries of the newly liberated India. But in terms of number, intensity and continuity, impact of the exodus felt on the eastern front far exceeded that on the west. The internal political turmoil, coupled with communal riots first in East Pakistan, and then in Bangladesh, made sure movements across the boundary remained a regular feature even after 1971.

This repeated redrawing of political map of Assam, along with that of the twin valleys of Surma and Barak by the colonial rulers, showing utter disregard to the sentiments of the Assamese and the Bengalis, is causally connected to the emergence of the parochial political patriarchs who assumed power in the Assam in the post-Independence India. Assamese middle-class saw in the British actions of administering Bengali settlement on their own land an evil design of linguistic hegemony. Hence, in the post-colonial Assam, they tried to correct history.

In a bid to retaliate, the Assamese elites, who by then had got a fair share of political power, began to treat Bengali settlers on Assam’s soil as ‘cultural foreigners’. The genesis of the anti-foreigner movement, spearheaded by the All Assam Students’ Union (AASU) during 1979-85, thus, dates back to the series of above happenings where politics played mayhem with culture.

The bogey of ‘infiltration’

There was no evidence provided by either the government or the academia about the scale of cross-border movement of people. Despite that, the xenophobic movement launched by the AASU during the early 1980s was successful in convincing the Indian establishment that a ‘marauding infiltration’ by Bangladeshi nationals from across the border was putting the Assamese language and culture in great danger.

The six-year-long violent agitation, which left hundreds dead and thousands traumatised, culminated in the inking of the Assam Accord on August 14-15, 1985. This tripartite memorandum of settlement between the Centre, the Assam government and the AASU leadership was considered ‘historic’ in the Brahmaputra Valley. The Citizenship Act, 1955 was suitably amended by the Parliament to incorporate Section 6(a), bringing in a special provision of citizenship for Assam.

The legislative passage engineered by the Rajiv Gandhi government, which had a brute majority in both the Houses, did not care for the history, geography and anthropology of colonial Assam. The Nellie pogrom of February 18, 1983, in which more than 2,000 Bengali-speaking people, including women and children, were butchered, was conveniently forgotten by the Indian state. That gory incident has never been given enough attention in the media.

Legitimisation of racial violence

Successive governments have not been able to bring the killers to justice. To the contrary, the metamorphosis of AASU into Asom Gana Parishad and its eventual victory in Assembly elections has practically legitimised the racial killings.

The Bengali speaking citizens in Assam now face a new kind of terror, this time, from the Indian government. On the strength of an agreement, the State government is now active in the preparation of the National Register of Citizens. This is aimed at labelling lakhs of Bengali-speaking citizens as ‘illegal Bangladeshi infiltrators’.

The relevant rules and provisions in the statute book, including the Citizenship Act, 1955; the Foreigners Expulsion Act, 1946; the Immigrants (Expulsion from Assam) Act, 1950; the Foreigners Tribunals Order, 1964; and the Citizenship Rules, 2003 (as amended in 2009 and 2010), have all been very carefully crafted over the years to evict from Assam the Partition victims of erstwhile East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.

The Indian government has decided to upgrade the NRC only for the State of Assam even though, ideally, the exercise should have covered the entire country. The purpose of this official action is not difficult to decipher. The stringent set of conditions attached to the process requires the Bengalis of Assam to prove their Indian citizenship solely on the basis of their or their ancestors’ names appearing on the electoral rolls published up to 25 March 1971 and the NRC of 1951, failing which they would be thrown out of the updated NRC.

To make things complicated for these people, such electoral rolls are found to be both incorrect and incomplete. On the other hand, their Assamese and tribal counterparts would find easy inclusion, by virtue of being the ‘original inhabitants of Assam beyond reasonable doubt’.

The key question that confronts us now is: what would happen to these hapless Bengali settlers? In the absence of any bilateral arrangement between India and Bangladesh, the latter is not ready to take them back. This implies that lakhs of such Indian citizens, who have had their names on the Indian electoral rolls for the past four decades, and who are in possession of Electoral Photo Identity Card, would be rendered stateless. Going by the existing deportation norms and practices, they will just be evicted to the no man’s land on the Indo-Bangla border, that too in the dead of night. It will be a shameful moment for India, a proud signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

(Joydeep Biswas is an associate professor of economics in Cachar College, Assam (Central) University.E-mail: joydbiswas@gmail.com)

The piece was first published in the Hindu and can be accessed here http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-starkness-of-being-nowhere/article7633845.ece